Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chicken Country Captain – A Low Country Classic


Chicken Country Captain is one of the Low Country’s favorite dishes. You’ll find it served in restaurants and home dining rooms throughout the southern cities of Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia. Both lay claim to this Southern classic, which may have been brought to America by a ship’s captain ferrying spices from the Far East.

According to an article in the New York Times, “Chicken Country Captain is, simply, chicken fried in butter or bacon fat, then stewed in the oven with tomatoes fragrant with curry and pepper and served over white Carolina rice. But what a history it has. Charleston and Savannah are ports, and the cuisine of each city benefited from their access to the spices that arrived aboard ships that also hauled rum, molasses, tropical fruit and human chattel. Country Captain, some say, arrived in the South stowed away on one. It was, the story goes, the favorite recipe of an English skipper who served in Bengal and introduced the dish to friends in Savannah. Or Charleston. Or neither; its provenance has been much debated.”


A staple of Southeastern Junior League cookbooks since the 1950’s, the recipe for Chicken Country Captain can be traced back in various forms to older cookbooks as far back as the 18th century. This dish was said to be a favorite of the late U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and has gone in and out of fashion through the years.

But it was Cecily Brownstone, the Associated Press food writer, who kept the recipe for Chicken Country Captain alive for decades. Brownstone persuaded James Beard, the dean of American cookery, to teach the recipe in his cooking school and Irma Rombauer to publish it in The Joy of Cooking, one of the world’s most published cookbooks.  She herself published the recipe in hundreds of newspapers and was very upset when people would make changes to the original recipe. Miss Brownstone once said, "For years, every variation upset me. I would worry about eroding the image of the dish, about people getting the wrong impression. Using a breast in Chicken Country Captain, can you imagine?" 

For Cecily Brownstone’s original recipe, I know you’ll enjoy reading this article written by Molly O’Neill in the New York Times. I’m sorry Cecily, but I too have taken some liberties and changed a couple of things in the recipe, including using the dreaded breast. Here’s my version that we serve often in our home, always of course with the quintessential rice that the low country is so famous for. Enjoy.


Chicken Country Captain
Adapted from A Jug of Wine by Morrison Wood

4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
All purpose flour
3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium sized yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
1 ½ teaspoons curry powder (I like Madras brand)
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, crushed into pieces, juices reserved
1 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon brandy
3 tablespoons dried currants or raisins, plumped in a little hot water, then drained
Garnish: sliced almonds, carefully browned, and finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Dry the chicken well and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dust the chicken pieces lightly with flour. In a large non stick skillet heat the olive oil and sauté the chicken until it is golden brown, turning frequently so that all pieces are done evenly. If they don’t all fit, do in 2 batches. Don’t crowd in the skillet or the chicken will steam instead of browning. When the chicken is browned nicely on both sides, remove to a platter and keep warm.

In the same skillet sauté the chopped onions and the chopped green pepper in the olive oil until softened and slightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for one minute more. Add the curry powder, thyme, salt, freshly ground black pepper and cook a couple of minutes more, allowing the aromatics to flavor the onions and peppers. To that mixture, add the tomato paste and flour, stirring to incorporate them. Cook an additional three to five minutes, then add the crushed tomatoes, wine and brandy.  Mix and blend the ingredients well, and allow it to simmer over a medium flame for about 10 minutes. Add the drained currants or raisins, put the chicken back in the sauce, cover the pan, and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the chicken is completely tender, taking care not to overcook the chicken. If the sauce is too thick, you may thin it with a little of the reserved tomato juice from the canned tomatoes.

While the chicken is cooking, carefully brown some sliced almonds in a non-stick skillet until they start to brown. Set aside until serving time. After you plate the chicken, sprinkle generously with sliced almonds and a tiny bit of chopped parsley. Serves 4.



Rice is the traditional side dish for Chicken Country Captain. I like to mix my cooked rice with finely chopped parsley, a little good butter, and spoon it into individual small buttered dishes. When you are ready to serve, turn the molds over and carefully unmold on the individual dining plates. The little yellow specks on the top of the rice in the picture come from the butter in the mold and guests never seem to see it, so don’t worry about it. I can always count on getting complimentswhen I serve molded rice.

59 comments:

  1. I have never heard of this recipe, but it looks and sounds just perfect.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've seen recipes for this over the years and never made it. Sounds so good. I've never heard the term low country. I'll have to Gooogle it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Shortly after we moved to Charleston, my parents came for a visit from Virginia. A note here: Growing up in Virginia, rice was not a staple. It occasionally appeared in a pudding--never as a side dish. I was astonished when I went to Piggly-Wiggly and found 25 and 50 pound bags of rice! I chose a Chicken Country Captain to do for them. Mother loved it. My father ate the dish with some relish but said he'd prefer his rice served at the end of the meal with a bit of milk and sugar!!

    Thanks for the memory!

    Best,
    Bonnie

    ReplyDelete
  4. A scrumptious dish! What gorgeous colors.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

    ReplyDelete
  5. The dish looks delicious Sam and thanks for the history of the dish - you take such great photos

    ReplyDelete
  6. Sam, I would support your "modifications" enthusiastically. This looks and sounds delicious. Several years back I got a friend from Canada involved in a cooking project. She did an American meal, and I did a Canadian meal on the same day. Her assignment was Country Captain. During our research we learned about Cecily Brownstone, but when it came time to serve my Canadian dinner in New York, I discovered that one of my guests had actually known Cecily personally. Too bad the Country Captain was being served in Ottawa that day!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Next time I head to Savannah, I will try this recipe! It looks really good Sam. Your pictures are beautiful.
    Hugs,
    Penny

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hello,

    This dish looks so delicious!


    ~ Gabriela ~

    ReplyDelete
  9. Ah, you have featured one of my favorite dishes. I first remember having this at a luncheon I attended in Charleston. I was fifteen years old, and this has been one of my favorites since. My family loves it, too.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I can't believe it!!! I went to Savannah and Charleston ..and I didn't eat this wonderful dish!!!

    I have to come back,,,but I don't know when!! :(

    Anyway thanks...hugs, Flavia

    ReplyDelete
  11. I have heard of this but never made it. My, this looks so welcoming - it will come to my stove before Kanuary ends. Love all the flavors and will indeed do the dreaded chicken breast. Also, enchanted with the rice molds and am now stealing that grand idea. y husband wants a way to exert portion control when it comes to carbs - and this will do it in the most unobtrusive way.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Sam, my family adores Country Captain and we have several times a year. My recipe is far more pedestrian than yours. I plan to try yours the next time Bob has a yen for the dish. Your photos are gorgeous. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

    ReplyDelete
  13. Now Sam, you and I have to be the only two people who still own Jug of Wine! It is filled with fabulous recipes. Mine is falling apart...is yours?

    This is a marvelous recipe and I like your adaptation. Really, low country food is heaven sent. Lovely photos!

    ReplyDelete
  14. never heard of it - but lately thats seems to be the norm with me - I would love to try this dish - once again Meakin is reigning supreme in the photo department.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Beautiful presentation! Delicious dish!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Sam, this looks so delicious! I can't wait to try it. I will probably use chicken breasts, too (apologies in advance to Ms. Brownstone). The chili below looks wonderful, too.

    ReplyDelete
  17. This sounds like an awesome preparation for chicken! Love the almonds on top and the rice is a great side dish here. Very pretty presentation!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Good one, Sam! Like the booze, curry, fruit + almonds. Definitely something I'd like to try.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Love this dish and have made it in the past but the molded rice is a new idea for me. So elegant!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Very interesting. For your information I have featured it in my blog today.

    ReplyDelete
  21. This looks delicious! This is definitely a keeper! I love chicken and I'm always looking for another healthy recipe! Thanks for sharing! Have a wonderful day!

    Mary

    ReplyDelete
  22. They're many versions of this dish. It's truly an American classic recipe using ingredients from all over the world.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Your blog is fantastic! And I am so disappointed that I did not find you sooner to follow your other blog - you lived my dream! We have vacationed in Bermuda and St. John and I would LOVE to live in the USVI's for a while - perhaps in retirement, but my husband is not as adventurous as I. Thank you for your kind words on my blog too - Kare of This Old House

    ReplyDelete
  24. Bobby Flay did a Country Captain throwdown show one time, and I've been wanting to make my own every since!! I think he used a recipe from a set of brothers in Charleston (maybe Savannah??) who have written books on authentic low country cuisine. Can't think of their names! Anyway, this looks very similar to the winning recipe!! I'll have to try this!

    ReplyDelete
  25. Wow, who knew it would have had such a long history and also be a favorite of a president. I've never heard of the dish but I can see why it would be a long beloved dish. Yummy!

    ReplyDelete
  26. I have never heard of this recipe but does it ever sound good! I know it would be a hit in this house; thank you for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hi Sam, thanks for the correction, much appreciated. I don’t know why I wrote rum instead of brandy. Maybe the following chain of thought: Captain, Captain Morgan, Captain Morgan Rum…

    ReplyDelete
  28. OMG!!! Everything on your blog looks too beautiful to eat. It would be difficult to defile something so perfect. On the other hand... a girl's gotta eat. LOL

    Loving your blog. Perfection.

    Keri

    samwich365.com

    ReplyDelete
  29. I love recipes that have a interesting history like this one Sam! The addition of raisins, almonds and curry sound very Arabic, very much like Sicilian, Italian cuisine. I never heard of Country Captain Chicken but it sounds delicious and your photos are fabulous

    ReplyDelete
  30. It's interesting that anyone would be so adamant about sticking to the original recipe, it must be quite special. This chicken country captain looks very good. I like contrast of sweet raisins with the savory vegetables.

    ReplyDelete
  31. oh wow what a fantastic looking dish! this is my kinda food. thanks for sharing this.

    ReplyDelete
  32. I love the molded rice, such a nice presentation. I've heard of this dish but have never made it. I like your version with breasts.

    ReplyDelete
  33. OH! Sam thanks for teaching us about this dish, as I have a lowly quiche in the oven right now...*sniffle* I would rather have this or a bowl of that chili I see below!

    I am going to make this! I just made a version of Bo's Bowl Spinach Pie, okay I called it quiche...

    ReplyDelete
  34. I've been wanting to try this one for some time. I've never had it or made it but saw it (I think by those Charleston brothers) and knew it was one I want to make.

    Your plating looks fantastic as always!

    ReplyDelete
  35. wow what a very cool dish new to me always learn from you :-) and wish I could read your column bet its wonderful

    ReplyDelete
  36. My parents retired to Pawleys Island (just up the rd from Charleston). Will have to see if they have come across this dish; it's a new one for me. Sounds great!

    ReplyDelete
  37. The sauce on top of this chicken looks delicious. Served with rice, it is a perfect meal!

    ReplyDelete
  38. I love this dish! And your version looks mouthwatering, Sam. Tell you what... I'll be right over. ;-)

    XO,

    Sheila

    ReplyDelete
  39. Wonderful, Sam. My mother-in-law was from the south and this was one of her favorite dishes. I haven't had it in years. Thanks for reminding me how good it is.

    ReplyDelete
  40. I've heard of that dish but never knew exactly what was involved. Always love your explications, Sam. Not to mention your delectable photos!

    ReplyDelete
  41. Bonjour Sam - your site never ceases to amaze me with foods that inspire me to create beautiful meals.

    ReplyDelete
  42. I have heard of this dish before but was never sure what it was! Now I know it is a seriously delicious dish! Your rice gives it a special touch.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Look wonderful Sam and love the pictures! gloria

    ReplyDelete
  44. what a mouth watering meal! This is going on my list of "meals to cook" for sure!

    ReplyDelete
  45. This dish looks delicious Sam. Will definite be trying this one this week. The almonds are the perfect touch.
    Thank you for coming by to visit - I love all those little off the beaten path museums as well. Sometimes I'm just not in the mood to fight all the crowds at the big ones - hmmm, must be getting older!
    Have a wonderful Sunday,
    Mimi

    ReplyDelete
  46. Yum! Instant recollection. I had Chicken Country Captain in Savannah at a downtown hotel near the park in the 1980s.

    Your blog is # 1.

    ReplyDelete
  47. My father absolutely loved chicken country captain. He found the recipe in a magazine many, many years ago, and has often prepared it as his signature dish.

    Your post reminded me what a special dish this is to prepare for family and friends.

    Velva

    ReplyDelete
  48. This dish looks a lot like my chicken estofado but I add green olives. I love the presentation and the rice with the fresh . If my husband see this picture, he will ask me to cook it right away. It is his favorite.

    I was cooking chicken today in a different way but after looking at your beautiful plate now I am changing plans.

    Thanks,

    Mely

    ReplyDelete
  49. I used to make a variation of this when I was just married-haven't thought about it in years-you've made me want to cook it again : )

    ReplyDelete
  50. Sounds like comfort food, to me. I have heard of it but never made it so thanks for this recipe.

    ReplyDelete
  51. How did I live outside of Savannah for two years and never try this? It sounds fabulous.. anything fried in bacon fat has to be good!

    ReplyDelete
  52. This dish sounds absolutely amazing. I've never heard of it, but I have also (sadly) never been to the southeast, so that is probably why. It looks so refreshing, I love the idea of putting fresh parsley in the rice!

    ReplyDelete
  53. One of my favorite ways to eat chicken!

    ReplyDelete
  54. mmmmm, that looks good to me. Love the rice mold!.

    Lots of yummy love,
    Alex aka Ma What's For Dinner
    www.mawhats4dinner.com

    ReplyDelete
  55. Even though I live in SC, I've only been here for 16-ish years and have not heard of this recipe. The stories that you shared certainly make it's creation/origin sound logical for sure. I'll have to try this; thanks for educating me again!

    ReplyDelete

I enjoy reading each and every comment. I appreciate your taking the time to visit my blog and I hope you'll return again soon.
Sam